With the Alzheimer's Association estimating that 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease and that the death rate of it has risen 66 percent since 2000, the race for finding a cure or better treatment is on. According to research out of Baylor University, it may not be too far away. In fact, it could be as easy as taking a pill.
The Vancouver Sun reports that Mauro Costa-Mattioli, a neuroscientist and research lead for the project, recently found that a molecule in the brain of mice that was known to signal viral infections by causing a stress response, causes a similar response in patients with Alzheimer's. Suppressing this molecule, researchers found, improved memory in the mice:
PKR is an immune molecule previously known to act as a signal to the brain of viral infections, Costa-Mattioli said.
"We recognize that PKR plays a dual role, one in regulating simple everyday processes like the way neurons talk to each other (for) memory, but also has a stress response," said John Bell, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who also contributed to the study.
A virus is one form of stress that triggers PKR, but Alzheimer's patients' brains also experience PKR-releasing stress, said Bell, whose cancer research led him to create PKR-deficient mice which he shared with Costa-Mattioli's lab.
Finding that gamma interferon could suppress the PKR molecule and result in increased communication between neurons led the researchers to create a drug to inhibit the molecule. Kresimir Krnjevic, a professor emeritus in neurophysiology at McGil University and contributor to the study, told the Sun that this was the first time improved memory had been seen from the association between PKR and gamma interferon. According to the Sun, the team injected this inhibitor into mice stomachs with success, shedding positive light the potential for an ingestable drug.
The researchers say that a pill version for clinical trials of the suppressor is at least a few years away, depending on funding and lab research. Costa-Mattioli told the Sun that since even healthy people could take the pill and develop a "superhuman memory", although that's not the research's aim
In 2011, Alzheimer's was named the sixth leading cause of death in the United States -- the only one among the top 10 that is not preventable -- according to the Alzheimer's Association.
[H/T Yahoo News]